Lost and Found: Intellectual Vitality

*I first shared this post on Facebook on January 17th, 2017, and I am now posting here.*

For the better part of my college experience, one of the questions that has consistently been at the forefront of my thoughts: “What does intellectual vitality look like and how can I find it?”

If you had told me three years ago that I did not, in fact, possess true intellectual vitality, I would not believe you. I had done well in school, sports, and extracurriculars. I had been accepted to a great college!

The first inkling I had as to my lack of intellectual vitality came in the first quarter of freshman year. Struggling for the first time in my math and science classes, I was confused. Didn’t intellectual vitality mean good grades in classes? I had intellectual vitality, so why was I doing poorly?

As I began to lose confidence in myself and my abilities, I began to lose confidence in my intellectual vitality. Deep down, I wondered if I had possessed it at all. Was I able to succeed in the past through sheer work ethic? Did I deserve to be at such an institution where it felt like everyone, but me, possessed intellectual vitality?

For most of the first half of college, I felt like I was floating through my classes. I sought ways to distract myself from the disheartening truth of my lack of intellectual vitality. I questioned the purpose of higher education. I questioned whether I deserved the immense opportunities and resources I had access to. I questioned whether I would ever find intellectual vitality.

There is no single moment in which I came to understand what intellectual vitality looks like. Perhaps it was the hours I spent alone, wide awake at night, questioning everything I thought I knew about myself. Perhaps it was the time I woke up in the middle of the night in Tanzania during a summer fellowship, filled with so much energy and life, that I could only attempt to translate those feelings to words. Perhaps it was the time I sat in Memorial Church, listening to the words of a pastor on reconciliation and mercy, and decided that I wanted to lead a different path than the one I had dreamed of. Perhaps it was the time I got my first A in a class, a writing class on “The Rhetoric of Coming of Age.” Perhaps it was the time I sat underneath a gingko tree with a mentor, and finally understood that in order to help change the world, I needed to change myself. Perhaps it was the countless number of times I cried over the loss of my identity, over the loss of my vitality, over the loss of my purpose, over the loss of myself.

What I did not realize was the mere act of questioning every bit of myself was the beginnings of my development of intellectual vitality. I was developing a zest for ideas, a zest for asking questions that did not always have answers, a zest for engaging with difficult truths and realities. By questioning myself, I began to understand the concept of intellectual curiosity and energy.

Vitality comes in many forms: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual. Vitality is interconnected and interdependent. As I begin this new year, I feel that for the first time in my life, I possess all of the aforementioned forms of vitality.

Reframing my search for intellectual vitality to mean engaging in pursuits that give me energy, life, passion and vigor, has been my most important accomplishment. However, my most meaningful accomplishment will come from developing and maintaining vitality in myself and the people in my life.

Losing and finding vitality; indescribable, painstaking, challenging, and meaningful.

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